12 VERBS for FACIAL EXPRESSIONS – Speak Italian like a Native!

Facial expressions are very important in communication, since they allow us to add some shades to what we are saying in words. In fact, they often betray us! They reveal the truth of our thoughts that we didn’t dare say in words. I have noticed, talking with my students, that very often words and sentences to express all of these facial expressions are missing. Therefore, I will provide them all to you! Or at least… the most common ones! And don’t even think that you will never need them! Just think of how many times they appear in books!


1 – Accigliarsi/Corrucciarsi/Aggrottare le sopracciglia

“Aggrottare le sopracciglia” (to frown) consists in moving the muscles of the face by bringing the eyebrows closer together, and contracting also the forehead in doing so. It can be a sign of concentration, concern, anger, and sometimes even displeasure. I mean, it’s usually all over our faces.

2 – Fare l’occhiolino/Strizzare l’occhio

It consists in closing one of the two eyes for a short time, leaving the other one open. We all do it very often. It is generally used as a sign of understanding, a moment of eye contact between two people sending or hinting at a message that others cannot know. It’s even used to let someone know they’re joking.

Otherwise, it can be a sign of winking, when you want to try to seduce or win over someone.

Sometimes it is used the expression “fare l’occhiolino” (to wink) in a figurative way, but always to denote chemistry between both parties.

3 – Sgranare gli occhi

Spalancare gli occhi means to open your eyes widely in shock or in fear, making them almost float out of the head. You are probably wondering why frightened or surprised people would open their eyes so much. It seems that in this way people could see better, which can be useful in alarming situations to understand the danger. 

4 – Fulminare con lo sguardo

How many of you have experienced a situation in which a friend of yours is talking too much, maybe even telling embarrassing things that you did together and you wouldn’t want to come out. Well, in those cases, there are many things we would want to do or say, but perhaps the most reasonable (but still effective!) thing to do is “fulminarlo con lo sguardo” (to glare at someone).

Lanciare un’occhiata means to give someone a dirty and aggressive look to warn them that they should stop talking or stop doing what they are doing if they want to avoid our rage.

5 – Mettere/Tenere il broncio

When you frown to show someone that you are angry at them. By “broncio” (sulking), you can even express that you are somewhat offended and you don’t want to talk about it. Usually when sulking, you tend to also cross your arms.

It is common among children or adults in a funny way… Maybe!

6 – Fare la linguaccia

This expression is generally something that children do, when they are offended and so, out of spite, they stick their tongues out. As to say “Oh yeah? Are you reproaching me? And I reply like this!”

Tirare fuori la lingua (to stick one’s tongue out), as a childish gesture or as a mockery, made in a funny way. It is never to be taken too seriously. It’s like saying “Lol I made it and you didn’t”, but clearly with irony. For example, if I eat the last piece of chocolate cake and there is nothing left for my brother, I can stick my tongue out!

7 – Fare una smorfia 

This doesn’t indicate a clear and accurate expression. Fare una smorfia (to make a face) consists of moving your mouth and your face in general, in order to express feelings such as pain, disgust, dislike, boredom, dismay, confusion. It doesn’t refer to a well-defined facial expression.

If I eat something I don’t like, if someone makes a boring speech, if someone tells me something weird.

You can make a face even to make someone laugh, especially little children.

In the plural, “fare le smorfie” can also assume a different meaning, that is to act soppy, to have an affected behavior, meaning too sweet to be fake, almost nauseating.

8 – Arricciare/Storcere il naso

The overall feeling that describes this expression is disgust. It comes from the physical gesture that we make when we squeeze our nose, usually when we smell something unappealing.

However, in reality, you can “storcere il naso” (to wrinkle your nose) even to express a general rejection or disapproval towards someone or something that doesn’t really suit us.

9 – Sogghignare 

“Sogghignare” (to sneer) means to laugh, to smirk. This is done especially when you are happy for something but you can’t really show it, maybe because it is not good for everybody but only for yourself. 

As an example, if in the final match of Champions League there are two teams and I root for one of them but all of my friends root for the other one and then my team wins, I sneer.

10 – Arrossire

It consists of an involuntary action: that means when your face turns red because of embarrassment or more generally when you feel uncomfortable in a certain situation.

You can “arrossire” (to blush) in other situations as well: for example, when you get angry, when you cry or laugh a lot.

11 – Mordersi le labbra 

“Mordersi le labbra” (lip-biting) often represents a sign of stress or anxiety. It is common for someone to do it before an exam or an interview. It can also be a sign of attraction: if you’re talking to someone who is biting or licking their lips, it could mean they are interested in us.

Otherwise you can bite your lips to resist making an unpleasant comment, or restrain yourself from laughing or showing your emotions in general.

12 – Alzare gli occhi al cielo

It consists of looking up to the sky to show that something or someone doesn’t sit well with us. It is a common gesture when you are annoyed, bothered, you can’t take it anymore!

For instance, if we are arguing with someone who wants to be right at all costs and we can’t bear them anymore, it comes naturally to “alzare gli occhi al cielo” (to roll your eyes) as a sign of exasperation. The aim of this action is to make someone realize that we don’t agree with what is being said or that we are bored and we can no longer tolerate what is happening.

If you liked this topic, I want to encourage you to check out the following articles related to Italian expressions linked to ANIMALS and Italian VERBS to describe MOUTH SOUNDS!

And don’t forget to check out our online store: LearnAmo Collection!

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